Everyone is a critic these days– or maybe that’s all too obvious given our robust social media existences in which we can all have our say about everything all the time. It was refreshing, then, to be subjected recently to some strangers’ opinions without electronic mediation. By way of segue, both instances occurred in or near Calle Mexico, the south-of-the-border food truck gone bricks and mortar on 107 Avenue. (It’s also still a food truck.)
On my first trip to Calle Mexico’s tiny confines—we’re talking three tables and some cramped counter seating—I forgot my glasses in the car. As I trooped out to get them, a guy possibly waiting for the bus called out, “Hey buddy, how did ya like yer Mexicana?” I told him I had only just ordered and hadn’t yet gotten to try it. What he wanted me to know was that the place sucked, that it was way too fuckin’ expensive, and not even open half the time. The real issue, it turned out, was that he preferred Silina’s, the Lebanese operation that had preceded it, as they gave you lots of food—for cheap, eh?—and the woman at the counter knew his name. His female companion crouched against the adjacent pawn shop window confirmed this with a curt nod.
This unsolicited opinion may have actually coloured my first experience of Calle Mexico. I opted for the tacos al pastor ($12) and the friendly counter guy guided me to one of two tiny little Coke coolers just big enough to hold three squeeze bottles of hot sauce: avocado mild, tomatillo tangy and habanero angry. The food came out much faster than any food truck meal I’ve ever had, a red plastic basket lined with wax paper and laden with three corn tortillas heaped with marinated pork, onions, cilantro and small shards of a pineapple. The pork was nicely crisped on the grill and dried chilies imparted both spicy kick and rich roastiness, but I’ve come to expect a saucier al pastor and maybe the portion size and price weren’t an improvement on more upscale taco shops closer to the downtown core. Wow, that guy had really gotten inside my head.
I returned a couple of days later determined to make up my own mind and explore the menu in more depth. The friendly woman behind the counter suggested the torta milanesa ($12), a Mexican gourmet sandwich, and I indulged myself with a pineapple Jarritos, the only iridescent substance I’ll willingly drink.
The big stuffed, toasted bun practically filled the basket it came in and had been claimed with a tiny paper flag in the name of Mexico. A fried veal cutlet and a slice of grilled ham sizzled atop avocado, tomato, lettuce, a little feta and chipotle cream, but the magic ingredient was a fragrant seam of velvety refried pinto beans. I don’t usually eat veal, but this seemed a solid reason to eat veal as the very various crisp and creamy textures fought for command of my palate.
As I munched a woman who had just finished an order of the enchiladas verdes ($13) held forth to the woman behind the counter about how much better Calle Mexico’s food was than that of certain local poseurs who overcharge for fancy cocktails and ambiance and honestly the food isn’t even really that authentic (the woman then admitted she’d never been to Mexico). From my vantage it’s apples and oranges, but I vowed to try the enchiladas that had provoked such fierce loyalty.
The enchiladas—four flour tortillas wrapped around moist mouthfuls of shredded chicken—weren’t stuck to the plate with cheddar but instead sprinkled with feta and spattered with sour cream, with lots of shredded lettuce—does any other cuisine make iceberg seem so toothsome? — some chopped radish and slices of avocado. But what made them sing was the moat of salsa verde all around, tangy green sauce made with tomatillos, jalapenos, onions and garlic to dredge every bite through. Not too spicy, but deliciously complex thanks to those enigmatic tomatillos, which are not tomatoes. I chased it with a cool glass of housemade horchata ($2.50), a surprisingly thirst-quenching concoction made from rice, almonds, cinnamon and vanilla. I was thus nicely slaked.
My mind and my stomach both tell me that Calle Mexico is a worthy contender in Edmonton’s growing array of Mexican eateries (humble and authentic division), with the torta comprising a particularly crave-worthy item. But opinions, as the saying has it, are like a certain bodily orifice—everybody’s got one. Feel free to air yours as you see fit.
Calle Mexico, 11128 – 107 Ave